November 15, 2007

Movie Review: Tooth and Nail

After Dark Films, founded by Courtney Solomon (Dungeons & Dragons and An American Haunting), is making a splash in the low-budget horror scene. In 2006 the After Dark Horror Fest arrived, spotlighting 8 films that would have otherwise been relegated to the straight to video market where they would most likely be ignored. This festival of sorts offered an opportunity for horror fans to get a look at these films on the big screen, as well as give the filmmakers some more exposure. This year, the second for the festival, I was able to take in five of the features. Are all of them great? No, but they all have something to offer, something outside of the mainstream glut of remakes and imports. One of these films is Tooth and Nail.

In 2012 the planet runs out of gasoline. Despite the experts saying that there are thirty years left of crude left to turn into our vehicle fuel of choice, the world ran out anyway. Whether it be to destruction in war or through rampant over-consumption, or by some other means entirely is not explained. Not that it matters, this story is not about how we came to that end, just that we did and the horrible results that came about because of it. While the story chooses to ignore many other aspects of society in favor of focusing purely on the gas aspect, at least for the first half, I am willing to forgive as writer/director Mark Young clearly wishes to make a statement regarding the position of oil in modern society and how much we rely on it. The biggest issue here is that this oil commentary and the breakdown of society is given up roughly halfway through in favor of an Assault on Precinct 13-type scenario with a group of survivors holed up inside while a group of nasties attempt to get inside and take them out.

Following an opening monologue explaining the situation, the gas running out, wars breaking out, and much of the population killing each off and moving south for warmer climates (covering a span of 6 years, I believe), focus is turned to a small band of survivors that are making lives for themselves out of a hospital. Each day some of them go out on patrols for supplies and anything else that could prove to be useful. One day they come across a young woman who had just been attacked. Seeking to help out, the survivors take her back to the hospital and patch up her wounds.

After helping her out, they begin to go about their daily routines and all is getting back to normal. Normal doesn't last long and a couple of their own go missing. Coinciding with these disappearances is the arrival of a brutish lot of nasty boys armed with axes, spiked bats, and swords headed up by Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones. We learn from the newcomer, going by the name Neon (Rachel Miner), it is learned they are called Rovers and fancy themselves cannibals. Apparently, after the gas ran out and war wiped out most o f the people, the cows and pigs went away as well. Rovers seeking meat would stalk clusters of survivors, picking them off one at a time and then picking their bones clean.

And so it went. The first half of the movie had the survivors talking about the situation and trying to make lives for themselves, using Neon as the focal point to deliver said discussion. Then there is the throwing of the switch and we move from surviving the changed world to flat out, immediate survival. The melding of political/societal commentary and post-apocalyptic survival action add up to one interesting movie. There are some nice thoughts concerning the direction we are heading, and then the hunting cannibals and resulting battle for survival offer up some worthy thrills in the second half.

Some of the acting was sub-par, some of the dialogue was poor, and some of the scenes were ill-conceived. Still, it is effective, and proves to be a strong film considering its low budget roots. My biggest problem with the movie were the names. Most of the characters were named after cars, Neon, Ford, Dakota, Nova, Viper, Victoria, Torino, and the older, wiser character called himself Darwin. Seriously? If we follow the timeline, the gas runs out in 2012, it tool a year for everything to start falling apart, another five for the wars to burn out and much of the population to be killed off, and another year for our survivors to be living in the hospital, that puts us to the year 2019. Are you going to tell me that in seven years everyone has given up their names and taken on vehicle monikers? Did I accidentally travel back to 1997 and catch a screening of The Postman? Those names really got to me.

So, while Tooth and Nail started off with an interesting head on its shoulders, it quickly devolved into more recognizable action film trappings as the cannibals stepped in and started whittling the survivors down until one stepped up to take charge and fight back, tooth and nail.

Bottomline. This was a good movie. It may have suffered from being a little talky, but it still worked. I liked the setting, and the payoff was cheer-worthy. It does offer a bleak look of the future, but it attempts to ground it in a sort of believable future. Not exactly "horror" but still worth your time.



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